New Essay: Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?

Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?
Warren Throckmorton, PhD
July 19, 2005

Wayne Besen tracks down a dizzying array of former ex-gay leaders who later came out of the closet for good, including the two founders of Exodus. From an article by Mark Benjamin on Salon.com, July 18, 2005.

The article containing the above quote is entitled, Turning Off Gays and is the first of a four part series on the Internet site, Salon.com. The series is billed as an investigation into the Christian netherworld of reparative therapy,™ a disputed practice to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals. The topic is important to many due to the current curiosity, both scientific and popular, regarding the nature of sexual orientation.

Are sexual preferences changeable? Activist Wayne Besen, quoted above has made a career out of claiming that such change is impossible. As evidence, the Salon article, referencing Mr. Besen, claims that there were two founders of a prominent organization of former homosexuals, Exodus International, and that both of them reverted to homosexuality.

Are these claims accurate? Let me cut to the chase. Mostly, they are not true. In fact, after investigating the matter, I found that there were more than two people on the founding board of Exodus. Of these founders, only one reverted to homosexuality. Furthermore, one of the two men referred to by Mr. Besen was never in leadership with Exodus.

Here are the details….

To read the rest of the essay, go to DrThrockmorton.com. (This website is no longer functional). I am not sure if the above essay exists anywhere in full which is just as well since I don’t stay by the conclusions.)

Salon Goes Undercover to Investigate a Reparative Therapist

In part two of their series on reparative therapy, Salon’s Mark Benjamin lies to Maryland therapist, Barry Levy to get his story.

The session with Mr. Levy sounds believable enough, although I would want to hear from Mr. Levy as well. Several aspects of the commentary on the story however are questionable. Benjamin writes:

The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right’s crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools.

This is a theory that is based in the reaction of European psychiatry to the idea that homosexuality is a condition and not a behavior. Kertbeny and Ulrichs defined homosexuality as an inborn trait in the 1860s in a political effort to prevent the maintenance of sodomy laws in Prussia. European psychiatrists grasped this concept but looked for environmental causes. Freud came along and in the spirit of the day located the cause in the first six years of life. Freudian thinking about homosexuality dominated psychiatry for decades as it did on most other psychiatric issues. In the Salon article, Levy is not exactly off when he says psychoanalysts still consider homosexuality a treatable condition. Not officially, mind you, but there a number of them who were trained in this way and maintain that approach to practice. It should be noted that homosexuality is not the only issue they view this way. They are being consistent in their theoretical outlook when they consider homosexuality through Freudian lenses.

I wouldn’t call this theory the moral underpenning as Mr. Benjamin does. I don’t think the political opposition to gay marriage, for instance, is conditioned on the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

Benjamin writes:

One study, often cited by conservative groups like Focus on the Family, shows incremental success from reparative therapy. But critics point out that the study was based solely on interviews with subjects arranged by ex-gay ministries; in fact, many of them worked at the ministries.

He is undoubtedly referring to Spitzer’s work. And the charge that the study was based solely on interviews “arranged” by ex-gay ministries is false. Spitzer says where his participants came from. About half were referred by a combination of NARTH and ex-gay ministries, but even then the interviews were not arranged. These groups put out the call for research participants and people answered.

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Levy cautioned Mr. Benjamin that change may take some time and that it didn’t work for everyone. While I personally go into much greater detail (and he may have as well, we don’t know), I think it speaks well of him that he was not coercive and did not over promise as reparative therapist are often accused of doing.

I think this article is detrimental in that it portrays reparative therapy as the only approach that holds that sexual orientation is flexible and that people can get real benefit from seeing a counselor for sexual orientation distress. I am not a reparative therapist but I do see clients that do not wish to integrate same sex attraction into a gay identity. And I do find that over time (not the same for all), some of the clients find that the same sex attractions go away and are replaced with opposite sex attractions. My approach is not to tell the client what might have caused their feelings but to allow the client to tell me via history taking. Not all same sex attraction is association with the reparative history as described by Mr. Levy in the Salon article. Many ex-gays have that background and the reason for this should continue to be researched but I have seen many who do not fit that Freudian based theory.

Feedback on Salon article: 80% of Exodus Founders are still straight

Here is a quote from the Salon article regarding the founders of Exodus International:

“Besen tracks down a dizzying array of former ex-gayleaders who later came out of the closet for good, including the two founders of Exodus.”

This is not true. Only one of the founders are gay today (Michael Bussee). His partner (Gary Cooper) was not a founder and died of AIDS several years ago. 80% of the founders are still ex-gay. I know; I have talked to all of them personally to research it. This should be corrected. Wayne Besen knows there were more than 2 founders of Exodus and he knows that Gary Cooper was not a founder but he still claims these things to anyone who will listen.

More links on the Love in Action Issue

Here is a Salon article on reorientation therapy. The issue is getting a lot of press at the moment. Here is a place you can track the bloggers on the issue.

I am growing concerned serious therapists are going to be dismissed simply due to a belief in the flexibility of sexual feelings. There are so many serious questions about the nature of the science that are being ignored due to polarization on this issue. Gay activists in particular are loath to allow any serious questioning of the sexual orienation orthodoxy.

Unbelievable: Some are trying to tie ex-gays to the Tampa murder of a toddler

I am beyond amazed. There is a story out of Tampa, FL that is sickening. A man boxed his three year old son to death to make sure he would not become a sissy. An aunt said he was afraid the boy would be gay. Florida “Protective Services” released the boy to the “parents” after obvious signs of abuse. The mother watched the boy being abused and did nothing. This is a tragic and incredibly nauseating story. I was involved in protecting kids like this in Portsmouth, Ohio when I was a consultant for the Protective Services there. So class, let’s take a quiz.

Who is responsible for the death of this boy?
a. the father
b. the mother
c. Florida Protective Services
d. the ex-gay movement and reorientation therapists

If you are a reasonable person, you chose the father but could consider the mother and the Florida authorities accomplices. If you are the gay press, you picked d) the ex-gay movement.

Here is the “reasoning” – ex-gays tend to hold traditional views about gender and this man obviously had warped views of masculinity. Voila! It the ex-gays fault!

Because ex-gays do not want to be gay, the man accused of killing the boy had negative attitudes toward potential gayness in his son (the boy was three)? Because some reorientation therapists have traditional views of gender roles, the accused killer had these same views to the extreme and he set out to follow the teachings of the therapists? Incredible!

Now I do not understand something. These same people with their traditional views also believe this wise saying from the same source as those traditional beliefs: “do not provoke your children to wrath.” Why didn’t that rub off on the killer?

Let’s be clear. Responsibility for this tragedy falls on both parents and the Florida Dept of “protective services.” It is beyond shameful that anyone would use this awful situation to try to score political points.

Love in Action: Zach’s father speaks out

I mainly want to blog this link that gives the parent’s viewpoint regarding the Love in Action issue with Zach the blogger. I suspect this story will continue to unfold when Zach gets back on the computer. If he comes out and praises his experience at LIA, then what will the gay press do then? If he doesn’t give positive reviews of LIA then there will be an increased frenzy to make this young man’s experience a focal point for all criticism of ex-gay ministries. Stay tuned…

I Do Exist Event, 2005

Anyone reading this who would like to be a part of the first anniversary of the launch of I Do Exist, please let me know. Plans are in the works to host twice as many sites as last year. Showings will be scheduled anytime in October but preferably near October 11. Email me at ewthrockmorton@gcc.edu or post here if you are interested in being a part of this event.

Love in Action Issue

Although the gay press would like to keep the Love in Action issue brewing, I think the issue is likely to come down to whether the program see itself as a youth mental health treatment program or a ministry, ala camp.

After speaking with Director John Smid, I believe the program is ministry and not treatment. I think he views it more as a program that puts the emphasis on becoming identified with Christ and as such a ministry program for Christian teens and their families. He also told me that parents can “make” a kid go but that the LIA people will not restrain kids if they up and leave. I make my kids go to church in the sense that I control their freedom up to point. At a certain age, though, kids will do what they want no matter what consequences parents control. The same is true with this program. If any coercion is done, it is from the parents.

I believe true therapy requires informed consent from clients of any age. So if LIA wants to move into treatment, they will need to meet state guidelines (perhaps they already do, I do not know) and will need to assess for informed consent prior to treatment.

Ongoing conversation regarding reorientation therapy

I have learned that the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) passed out a paper by Richard Carlson criticizing my views on reorientation counseling at the recent PTA convention. I wonder why the PTA thought such information had anything to do with school safety.

To pick up the conversation from the beginning, see “Sexual Reparative (Conversion) Therapy Revisited” followed by a response from me (“Sexual Reorientation Therapy Reconsidered“). Recently, he answered me back in print with an article on the website of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. For the new article responding to Carlson’s article handed out at the PTA convention, consult Drthrockmorton.com.

Happy reading.